Falling Out of Cars gave me renewed hope for the future of Jeff Noon’s work… but I have a feeling this is his last book. There are certain quotes in the introduction that allude to his degrading mental state, or, his traveling too far down the rabbit hole as he might say.
Noon is also the author of Automated Alice, a reimagined sequel to Lewis Carroll’s greatest work. His first book, Vurt, had me hooked from the first few lines:
Mandy came out of the all-night Vurt-U-Want, clutching a bag of goodies.
Close by was a genuine dog, flesh and blood mix; the kind you don’t see much any more. A real collector’s item. It was tethered to the post of a street sign. The sign read NO GO. Slumped under the sign was a robo-crusty. He had a thick headful of droidlocks and a dirty handwritten card — “hungry n homeless, please help.” Mandy, all twitching steps and head-jerks, scurried past him. The crusty raised his sad little message ever so slightly and the thin pet dog whined.
Through the van’s window I saw Mandy mouth something at them; “Fuck off, crusties. Get a life.” Something like that.
I was watching all this in the halo of the night lights. We stuck to the dark hours in those days. The Thing was on board and that was a major crime; possession of live drugs, a five year stretch guaranteed.
The way he writes, as if he were dictating to a friend the path his eye travels while drunkenly assessing a shit show unfolding in real time, it’s all too easy to get sucked into his sci-fi/fantasy lifestyle that seems all too close to the way we live now. This is the follow-up to his first in the epic post-modern, drugged-up odyssey is Pollen. There’s something about it, though. I’m not sure why, but I couldn’t get into the second book.
Now, that it’s been a few years (almost 10, to be approximately exact) since I’ve dug into his brain, I found a renewed hunger for his depraved thought process.
Falling Out of Cars isn’t involved with the Vurt series at all, but it feels as if the two worlds straddle the same fence. Though the stories are based in separate realities, the characters whose lives you assimilate into your own while reading paint a bleak and ragged existence.
For myself, I felt as though I was suffering from some cruel hangover, the kind which makes the world seem too real, too fierce. The cries of the gulls pierced through me. My pores were damp with the smells of diesel oil, salt, the saturated fats floating around the hotdog stand. Even the planks I walked on, the grain of the wood, the patterns were too well-defined. And yet, strangely, whenever I turned away from these details, everything became fragile, brittle. I felt I was moving inside a theatre set, that I might step through completely, and fall.
Our lead character here, Marlene, is also a writer like the main man in Vurt, but her epithets are rife with confusion and suffering. At one point in the book, she tears her precious notebook to shreds, in one of her withdrawal fits. And there’s no going back from that.
When you surrender to the void and willingly rip all of your memories out of your own head, that’s when you know there’s no hope for humanity.
Falling Out of Cars is set in a dystopian future where people live out there lives in a meaningless drone, much like a lot of people do today, but in Noon’s book, no one knows who they really are. If they’re lucky, they may have a few memories from the last couple of years yet rattling around inside their brains, on the off chance they’re triggered from a similar traumatic event, but people are deteriorating quickly and no one quite knows why.
Mirrors are a thing of the past. Clocks are banned. The only thing holding any two people together is a shared task of epic proportions. Marlene’s task? She’s in charge of finding the missing shards of a strange piece of glass that allows anyone who touches it, nay, if someone even looks at it, they begin to see themselves. Who they really are, in all their decadent glory.
Half-way through the journey, Marlene stumbles upon an old woman, lurking in the shadows of some alleyway, who takes two photographs, one of each of her two partners-in-crime. She scoops up the Polaroids and sees their fates made plain, steering her toward a sordid twist of fate. She shouldn’t have noticed things. She should be falling apart, due to the lack of Lucy in her blood. “Keep it sweet,” they say as they down the drug to stay sane, while the lucky ones have full function of their mental states.
It makes you wonder… with all the prescription pills, pot, and booze floating around in our systems 24/7, are we being doped to keep us from noticing blips in the radar? That stuff that sets us apart, those tiny knickknacks we like. What if we didn’t have a home, but instead we roamed around in a beat-up mini-van in search of some priceless pieces of nothing, just so we had something to keep us going?
Would we follow Marlene’s lead and try to write everything down, just to remember who we are when shit hits the fan? What if you turned to your notebook one day, to see your life in scribbles? You can’t make out a thing. Would you give up and run away or keep on the same meaningless path?
These are the questions I asked myself as I fell into the maddening trap that is Jeff Noon’s latest work. I wish he would keep writing, but then again, when you’re done, you’re done.
Featured image via metamorphiction.com